Are you thinking of starting a t-shirt company? When I first thought of starting my t-shirt company, Tees for Change, I had no idea where to begin! knew I had a great idea for my t-shirts, but I was pretty much clueless about everything else! So I went online and learned as much as I could about starting a t-shirt company.
I learned about where to source blank t-shirts, how to set up my online store (I started with ZenCart, but outgrew it a little later and switched to BigCommerce, which is one of my e-commerce platforms, along with Shopify), how to get publicity for my tees and how to use social media to promote my business. I ended up selling my t-shirt business, but I learned A LOT about running a t-shirt company in those four years, so I thought I would put together this handy guide to help you on your entrepreneurial journey.
Here are 10 tips for starting a t-shirt company
1. Come up with a marketable idea
After you’ve decided that you are starting a t-shirt business, start brainstorming about possible ideas for your t-shirts. Write down as many ideas as you can. Some things to think about are: do you want text shirts or graphic shirts or both? Do you want to make shirts for women, men, babies? What is hot right now and what is everyone wearing? Do you want color shirts or mostly black or white shirts? The more questions you ask yourself, the more ideas you will come up with during your brainstorming session.
2. Determine your target market
After you’ve brainstormed your ideas for starting a t-shirt business, it’s time to start thinking about your target market. Who do you want to sell your t-shirts to? Be as specific as possible. “Women between the ages of 18-45” is not a specific target market. You must dig deeper and find your niche. Some examples of target markets are skateboarders, women who have toddler children, grandmas or grandpas, Las Vegas tourists between the ages of 25-45, men who play golf, etc. The more specific you can get with your niche market, the easier it will be to sell your shirts.
3. Set up your business structure
Most t-shirt entrepreneurs starting a t-shirt business start out as a sole proprietor, but as their company and sales grow, they change their company structure to an LLC, LLP or corporation. Think about how big you want your business to be and then consult with a business or legal professional on what the ideal business structure would be for you. Another thing you might want to consider is what type of sales you want to focus on – retail (selling directly to consumers), wholesale (selling to other stores) or both. This might help you decide what business structure is best for you.
4. Manufacturing your t-shirts
Many who are starting a t-shirt business start out by purchasing the t-shirt ‘blanks’ from other manufacturers. This allows them to offer a variety of sizes, colors, and styles, but keep costs to a minimum. Many t-shirt blank manufacturers have really low minimums, so you can test a few different styles to see what will sell best for your niche market. Another option is to have a t-shirt manufacturer make shirts according to your specifications, but they often require you to purchase thousands of shirts at a time, which might not be feasible when you first start your shirt business. If you search for “shirt blanks” or “shirt manufacturers” you will be able to find a plethora of resources online.
You can also start with a “print on demand” business model – this means that you use a third-party vendor to print and ship out each order as it comes in, so there is no inventory storage or upfront costs on your end. You can use a company like Printful or Printify (and both can easily integrate with your Shopify or e-commerce platform).
5. Printing your t-shirts
Some people get in the t-shirt business because they love to screenprint and they have all the necessary equipment to print their own t-shirts. If that’s not you, then search the Internet for screen printers in your local area and meet with them to discuss your needs. Don’t be afraid to interview a few screen printers and work with the one who is a good fit for you.
6. Pricing your t-shirts
The price of your t-shirts depends on what it costs you to make each t-shirt. When calculating the price, make sure to include the actual price of the shirt, screenprinting costs, shipping costs, costs of hangtags and labels and other costs such as marketing, storage/warehousing, and labor. Also, consider if you plan on selling retail or wholesale or both. If you are not selling your shirts to other stores or boutiques, then you might be able to price them lower since you are cutting out the middleman. Set a price that allows you to cover all the costs and make a profit as well. And don’t be afraid to price your shirts higher if your costs justify it.
7. Storing and shipping your t-shirts
Many people who are starting a t-shirt business start out by storing their shirts in their garage, basement or home office in bins or on shelves. Think about how much time and space you have and what you want to focus your efforts on. Do you enjoy packing and shipping and do you have the time to do it? If so, starting in your home is a good idea. But if you hate the idea of going to the post office every day or if you don’t have space in your house to store your shirts, consider hiring a fulfillment house, which will do all the storage, packing and shipping for you for a fee.
8. Selling your t-shirts directly to consumers
If you are starting a t-shirt business and want to sell your shirts directly to the consumer, it’s probably a good idea to set up your own website using Shopify. Allow people to purchase items directly from your website and make sure you have good photography that reflects the quality of your t-shirts. You might also want to consider selling your shirts at local events such as flea markets or street fairs or fundraising events.
If you don't want to set up your own website, you can sell your shirts with Merch by Amazon and have access to their millions of customers.
9. Selling your t-shirts wholesale
You can also sell your shirts to other stores that target your niche market when you are starting a t-shirt business. These can include local boutiques, gift stores, t-shirt shops, and even larger retail chain stores. You can call the store directly and ask to speak to the buyer. Many stores like supporting businesses in their area, so it’s best to start out with stores in your town or city first.
10. Marketing and promoting your t-shirts online and offline
Just because you have a website doesn’t mean that swarms of people will know about it or even find it online. It’s best to work with your web designer to make your website search engine friendly so people can easily find you. Contact other businesses and ask to exchange links, post comments on other people’s blogs (with a link back to your online store) and partner with websites that target your niche market but don’t compete with you. And, use social media and influencers to spread the word about your t-shirts.
You can also sign up for a program like Media Leads, which allows you to connect directly with editors and bloggers so you can get your t-shirts featured in print magazines and online.
And lastly, wear your t-shirts as often as you can! This is often the best and most effective method to get your shirts seen. Tell everybody you know about your new business venture and ask them to tell their friends. Word of mouth is very powerful.
Nice and informative article. It is very important to understand the challenges and often it is underestimated. People are very attracted to various features of selling products and printing but many fail to understand what it takes to be successful.
Take some classes. Understand how screen printing works. What it takes. Understand the equipment. I have seen many people making non researched or half informed decision. Please dont do that. Do your home work. Before investing your capital into equipment, attend classes where you can learn pros and cons of screen printing and understand what it will take to be successful. It may sound easy but its a challenging field.
Do your homework. Evaluate your exit strategy. Before entering into any business, one must know its exit strategy. Many business in US fail because they are not sure when to exit and what to do if everything is going south for them. Understand your options and competition. Be focused and determined.
I did a screen printing course quite an eye opener.
these are very helpful tips for starting this particular business. thnks or the outline!
I like your section about being very specific with your target market. I generalized a little too much before reading what you wrote. Then, I wrote down what I had always thought and realized I was being way too general. I broke it down into two, specific sub categories and feel a lot better about my market. Though, I realize my market became plural in a sense, I do really get most of my business from two different categories within the same group!
Thanks for giving me the idea to be more specific!
Once you’re ready to get your designs printed and put into production, he’s a list of some super important questions to run by your t-shirt printing company…
1. What are your maximum print dimensions?
2. What are your turnaround times?
3. Do you have a minimum order?
4. Are there any hidden fees?
5 Do you offer an art working service?
6. Do I get a visual proof of my order before my job goes to print?
7. What digital file types do you accept?
8. What are your delivery costs?
9. Are you able to match specific colors?
10. How do I care for my printed garments?
This was very informative. I have one question, how frequently do I release a design. One/month, or seasonal, and if its seasonal, how many t-shirts at a time
Nice info for tshirt business. thanks for sharing… 🙂
as one of player on this niche industry, i got problem on point 1 & 2. How if i create more than 1 tshirt niche on my site ( just like Zazzle & cafepress) ??, everything actually was Funny tshirt, but, I create them all for Man, woman, or Kids ,..and there’s more than one category on my site ?. how can i determinate my target market. ??
These are great tips. For us, we have noticed that social media and an overall presence is also something to take into account. Sometimes it has nothing to do with selling shirts at all, it is just being yourself and showing a passion for what you do.
love your reply Andy
Nice tips! Love the idea of defining the target market in specifics. Its easy to miss this (our mistake actually).
Great tips! The hardest part is coming up with a marketable idea. If you can nail that, the rest is just some good ol’ fashion hard work.
I started a t-shirt brand in 24 hours with only $24 and made $347 the first day working with the idea if hyperlocal shirts celebrating local communities in my city.
Could you please explain the complete business structure like you bought blank tshirts or you were the manufacturer of the same.
Looking for your valuable response!
Thanx for the information. i definitely took notes and plan to use them towards my newest business venture.
Thanks for the information this is very useful
I think this was a great article. Very well written. I have lots of customers that are interested in starting their own t shirt line. I definitely think they should check this out.
I love this website, gave me a lot of fundamental information to know about a t shirt business. Thanks very much launch and grow very helpful.
I have delayed starting a business for some time now because I thought getting a trademark was very important. How necessary is it really?
I think you can start your business and at the same time apply for a trademark. It will take a while for it to be approved, but that shouldn’t hold you back from starting.
I love all of the insights you have given in this article. I was thinking about using Amazon to sell and ship my new t-shirt line. Need to get started on the trademark as well!
I’d like to give advice to people looking into buying custom screen printing for their t-shirt line, do your homework! Research! Research! Research! At my screen printing company mutinyink.com we get tons of people who want one or two pieces of a 10 color oversized print, or my favorite, who want a 6 color all over print in plastisol! Do some research! There are tons of blogs out there that explain what to expect in certain situations, including our own blogs. All it takes is a little reading and you can avoid a headache for everyone involved.
Learn the differences between direct to garment(dtg) and screen printing and sublimation and vinyl.
Learn the difference between waterbased and plastisol ink especially if you’re looking for large prints or all over printing.
Comment *lovely advise, really appreciate this, actually am about to open my own personal screen printing office, where I carried out my own private design of works, so have been for. So many years thinking of how to go about it, but with this word of advice, its will develop more to more ideal, I really really appreciate that, thanks so so so much.
thank you for the wonderful information.
I have created my own unique catch phrase for my t-shirts and I am afraid that others can steal the idea and run with it. How would I go about protecting it?
Thank you for the advice! It has been very informative.
I got my website up and running but the hardest part I am finding is nailing down the niche that will buy. Any advice would be awesome; or is it just trial and error. Great blog post btw!
This is very positive and powerful information. I am glad I have found this site. I am just getting my information for my Graphic T-shirts business and hopefully I will be ready by summer.
Very awesome guide. About a year ago I started learning how to design my own t shirts and recently I started to sell them locally, but I started thinking about making a business out of it. I have no idea how I am going to do it, and that is why I started searching and ran across your guide. I found it to be very helpful, and you helped point me in the right direction and making the first step. Wish me luck! 🙂
Thanks to all of you for the great tips and ideas. I’m looking to start my own business printing t-shirts. Building up clientele wonto be the problem and I do know what and to whom I want to sell. I also know where I want to sell from meaning locations. I just have a problem starting. Finding reasonable tshirt press machines and a silhouette cameo machine. I’m going to start of small and hopefully let the business build itself up. If you guys have any tips on where I can’t get these machines at a affordable price just to get me started, please comment back. Thanks
I would like to add that choosing original and creative material is also very important.
I’ve been making vinyl t’s for friends and family. And would like to make some cookie jar cash. Should I be doing screen printing instead of vinyl
great article very helpful
I loved snacks so much I made a shirt that said just that (iheartsnacks)…I had no intentions on selling the shirt but every time I wore it people asked where can I get that shirt…I need it in my life… That got me thinking….maybe I should be selling this shirt so I created my company and it has been a blast..Check out my site and tell me what you think.
Answered a lot of questions I’ve had. Great notes!
Any advice on the best way to print what’s best for starting up cost and quality?
OMG, This is relly great. I want to try designing my own clothes
Thank you so much for this information. It’s been very helpful. 🙂
I am really excited about starting this business. The information is very useful. Thank you!
Your information is very helpful and has given me much insight to my T shirt business plan.
We Starting our own little vinyl printing business and this was very helpfull info. I thank you gratefully
I think Your data is useful and has given me much understanding of my T-shirt strategy. Thanks for sharing.
I personally believe that people who are planning to run a t-shirt company must work with a reputable commercial printing service. Well, I agree with you that it would be best to determine the right specific market. You’re also right about the importance of consulting with business experts.